Berlin Catch-up Pt. 1

October 10, 11 & 12 – Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to complete the travelogue of our awesome trip overseas. So I’ll take up where I left off with some belated updates.

There were a couple of additional pix and notes about our day trip to Erfurt that I wasn’t able to include in the last post, Erfurt 2: On the Trail of Sponge Bob. So I’ll include them here, because we met and spoke to a very interesting character, who is an artist that works in leather, primarily. But the most interesting thing was her involvement with a group called “Club zur Rettung der Handschrift” or The Organization to Save Handwriting. We all thought these two involvements were interesting and Page, especially, spent a long time in her crowded shop, chatting with her in German. This is his portrait of her, Gabriele Trillhaase.

Photo credit: Page Chichester







After our excursion to Erfurt the day before, we rested and recovered on Tuesday, the 10th. We read books and vegged until dinner time, when we went to a place in the neighborhood called La Piadina, which Ini recommended. Evidently the primary serving of the eponymous restaurant is an Italian speciality—a freshly baked flatbread folded in half and filled with delightful veggies, meats, cheeses, and sauces. They also serve delicious soups, according to Ini. We watched the fellow behind the counter grab a wad of dough, run it through a few rollers to flatten and round it, then he tossed each on a griddle. When done, the bread was passed to the next person and he or she “built” each piadina to order. Unless you ordered meat, which in some cases was warmed, the only thing heated was the bread, and the veggies and cheese wilted and melted delightfully.

Our walk home was as interesting as the food, but we headed to bed after a nightcap and got an early start on sleep. Some of the things seen in shop windows:


Wednesday, October 11 was a day we all got ready for some visitors whom Ini and Lee knew from their days in the US – Maya and Mark, plus their young daughter whose name I never quite glommed onto. Ini had been friends with Maya’s mom, while Maya and Lee were the same age, but had attended different elementary schools in Roanoke back in the mid-90s. During the time that Lee had been at Hollins for a year, she and Maya had linked back up briefly, but other than that, they had not seen one another since they were about 10 years old. Now they’re both in their early thirties—Maya and Mark live in Charlottesville, Virginia. So there was quite a lot of catching up to be done during the gathering.

While Ini was at work, Jack and I did some chores around the apartment (tidying and such) and the “word” was that they’d arrive from the US (literally off the plane) around 3PM, and come to dinner around 5.

It truly was a lovely evening and Maya and Mark were excellent guests and fun for Jack and me to meet for the first time. Mark was in the city for a conference of doctors – he’s a tech developer who creates apps and “games” so users can track their health, fitness, and “watch” issues (like diabetes), with the data being directly transferrable to their medical professionals. Mark said he was going to have to “yell” at the conference attendants about using any sort of a point system as incentives for users to actually use and send their data. Mild-mannered Mark was not looking forward to “yelling” at anyone, but he said doctors all wanted to have users accumulate points so they’d stay involved with the health apps. Mark’s goal was to show them that this did not work, but that competing with friends or family, or with strangers in a set group (or even with themselves) would offer much more in the way of incentive than accumulating points that in the end, mean nothing because they’re not able to be “cashed in” like air miles. Too bad preventative health insurance companies could not take the points and lower a person’s premiums or offer some other measurable/usable point system that would have real-life returns.

Anyway, we had a lovely evening and Ini fixed a beautiful dinner, including rice, that the baby was totally loving, but also threw on the floor and seats and table – as babies are wont to do.

Thursday, October 12 – We decided to get out of the apartment, but the weather was still overcast, and if it wasn’t actually raining, it threatened rain. Ini had to work the late shift at the antiques store, so Page, Jack and I headed off to a photography exhibit Page wanted to see, and to stretch our legs back out after walking around Erfurt. To me, the exhibit was nothing to howl about, and for Page, who had told us his expectations were rather low about its value, he said his expectations were met.

But the walk was good and we stopped by the “Monkey Bar” right outside the zoo, and made a couple of other stops, one of which was to have a quick beer.



We had walked past this crazy hotel a hundred times before, but I figured this would be the last time I’d walk by, so I’d best get a photo. I could study it for hours and always pick out something new. Note Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” at the lower right.


After Ini returned from work, we all decided to go out to the Berlin Illumination, which was a big deal (possibly associated with the reunification celebrations?) but I thought it would be merely some buildings with different colored lights shining on them, and I was sort of ho-hum about it. Indeed, there were a couple that were simple illuminations as I’d imagined, but the main event was way downtown, and mostly shining on the buildings used by Humboldt University. Wow. Most of the pix here are stills, of course—but many of the illuminations were short films and the buildings were the “screens” that played a part in the images. I was not able to capture adequately some of the films that actually (and drastically) altered the appearance and architecture of the buildings themselves! Windows would be changed to have arched tops; columns would be added where there were none; subtle brick would be changed to mortared stone; and actual roof lines were changed. It was truly awesome and lots and lots of peeps were down in Mitte to see it all.



Not lights exactly, but I liked the shadow and the clock documenting our time there.





Across the street from the large square formed by buildings in the first set of pix, were additional Humboldt University structures, which showed a series of children’s artwork on the facades. As we waited for our bus to go home, I tried to capture as many in the series as I could, and I show here the most colorful of them.










These short videos show the scope of the broad square, plus a couple of the “films” we saw.




It was truly an amazing night, and I’m so glad we made the effort to get down there to see Berlin’s Festival of Lights.

Erfurt 2: On the Trail of Sponge Bob

October 9, part 2 –

(For Part 1, click here) From the hilltop with the churches, we climbed higher still to the Petersberg Citadel – a mostly abandoned walled military site. We did not discover much about its current purpose, although while there, we noticed a gaggle of children arrive in a van, and niece Lee read one sign that said there was a dance hall? studio? inside one of the buildings. She also said that records on citizens and other items of interest created by the Stasi (East German police) are kept here. I tried to find some info on the fortress and/or its current uses, but the only material I found was in German without option for translation.

In any case, we walked around the site for a long time and there were many things to photograph, notably including a barracks building with boarded-up windows, on which photographic artworks were displayed. It was a pretty cool “gallery.”

The views from the fortress were pretty spectacular, and I included several of them in the Erfurt 1 blog. But here are a couple more.

The last thing we saw before heading back downhill was this memorial. I photographed its setting because, from above, it looks like a firing squad or some sort of pillars to which the condemned might be tied. In actuality, it was a memorial to deserters from the army, who would not do as the Nazis ordered them to.

Off the high hill again, we began walking through the town. Page reported that he’d seen a statue of Sponge Bob somewhere, and he thought that would be a mighty fine place for us to take a group photo. So we started on the Trail of Sponge Bob. We were not at all sure where, exactly, Sponge Bob was, so with Lee’s map, we simply figured we’d re-trace our earlier steps to find it again.

Needless to say, our navigation was not great, and in any case we wanted to see new parts of town rather than the same-old/same-old. Jack was lobbying to sit on the main square to watch the further dis-assembly of the Ferris Wheel, and at about 3PM, Ini was looking ahead and lobbying for her 4PM “kuchen” or cake-and-coffee (we discovered that one could easily set one’s watch by Ini’s “kuchen” call). Lee was trying to figure out the map, and I was merely trying to keep up (Page walks really quickly).

Our trail to find Sponge Bob was winding, to say the very least. And took quite a long time. But we did (intentionally or not) see some new areas of Erfurt, so I have some more photos.

No idea what the magazine is or what it says. Subject matter, however, is obvious.

I was taken with these under-eve sculptures depicting ordinary people doing ordinary things, instead of the oft-seen gargoyles, angels, cherubs, or Romanesque decoration.

Finally, Jack, Ini, and I lost Lee and Page completely. We wandered some more, with Ini (who would not know Sponge Bob from a hole in the wall) and I having a good laugh about the way we’ll remember our trip to Erfurt in decades to come — “yeah, that was the day we set out on the trail to find Sponge Bob! Now, explain to me again: Who is Sponge Bob?”

Just as Jack found the target cartoon character statue (Ini and I had also lost Jack at this point) Ini called Page and Lee, who reported they were at a cafe and ready for a cake-and-coffee break. Ini and I had wandered past a shop whose door had been closed earlier, but this time the craftsman was working in his puppet shop. We didn’t stop long, however, in favor of finding our fellow trekkers, but I liked the photos so I include them below. Shortly, we gathered Jack and headed over to the cafe and sat down with beverages and sweets. The setting of the cafe was truly glorious, right beside the river, behind the houses flanking the famous quaint street, where we discovered the river goes UNDER these houses/shops and the road. We also found more children’s cartoon character representations near the cafe.

 The thing about puppets, is that Erfurt is known for its puppet-makers. The non-commercial children’s TV channel tells its stories with animated puppets. There were two stops we made along our wanderings at which you could insert a coin and animate a “stage” behind a window, and the puppets would tell a story. One began as a wicked witch and when the coin started the animation, a curtain pulled from her “magic mirror” and small figures in the “mirror” told the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was really difficult to get a photo behind the window, but I think I got enough for you to see the second little puppet show we watched.

This scholarly dude would lift his book up when the coin went in, and we could understand that he was reading The Odyssey. Then a curtain opened at the back, like a thought bubble.
Behind the curtain were puppets depicting some of the trials of Odysseus. While the reader’s eyes moved, many of the little puppets of his imagination moved, too.

I mention all this to get to the whole Sponge Bob thing. 

When I saw the character Jack had found, I knew immediately that, while it did, indeed look a bit like Sponge Bob, this guy didn’t have any pants on. I have no idea why, exactly, I know this, but the second half of Sponge Bob’s name is Square Pants.

It turns out that this Erfurt TV channel for children has a square character quite similar to Sponge Bob, except the German version is a loaf of bread. Here’s what I discovered after the fact about Bernd das Brot:

From WiKipedia: Bernd is a depressed, grumpy, curmudgeonly, constantly bad-tempered, surly, fatalistic, melancholic loaf of pullman bread speaking in a deep, gloomy baritone. He is small, rectangular and golden brown with hands directly attached to his body, eye circles, and a thin-lipped mouth. According to himself, he belongs to the species “Homo Brotus Depressivus.” 

His favorite activities include staring at his south wall at home (to learn the pattern of his woodchip wallpaper by heart), reading his favorite magazine The Desert and You, and enlarging his collection of the most boring railway tracks on video. Bernd sympathizes firstly with himself. His favorite expression is Mist!, used in much the same way as the English “crap.” His other favorite sentences are: “I would like to be left alone,” “I would like to leave this show,” and “My life is hell.”
Bernd’s backstory includes a failed advertising gig for the Soyuz Space Program. After that, Bernd was forced to apply for job at KiKa, which is the reason for his permanent scowl. Bernd himself does not want to appear on television and thinks it is a “dirty business.”
He interacts with two co-main characters. One is the chatty Chili das Schaf (Chili the Sheep), a yellow ewe with flaming red hair. Chili, the show’s Gastgeberin (hostess), is a Stuntschaf (stuntsheep) who finds it exciting to have close calls with accidents. The other main character is the show’s technical expert, the always-pleasant Briegel der Busch (Briegel the Bush), a green, bespectacled bush with flowers and leaves in lieu of hair. Briegel is an inventor who loves to build complicated devices that almost inevitably explode of their own accord. In contrast to Bernd, they enjoy adventures and the excitement of life. Bernd doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t think much of his colleagues, refusing to call them by name while they treat him as their best friend, even giving him nicknames such as “Bernti.”
The first show starring Bernd, Chili and Briegel was the 2001 pastiche Tolle Sachen, die einzige Werbesendung auf KiKa (Great things, the only advertising show on KiKa). While the actual show is a public, commercial-free channel, in this send-up episode, Chili and Briegel would advertise an object that would be tested by a “randomly” chosen tester that would invariably turn out to be Bernd. Shows with Bernd, Chili and Briegel also include pastiches of Robin Hood, Star Trek, American Westerns and fairy tales.
When I relayed all this to Ini a couple of days later, she exclaimed, “He is so German!”

Now I know you’re dying to see this Eyore-like character, so here’s what we found at the end when we followed On the Trail of Sponge Bob.

Photo credit: Page Chichester

We still had a few hours before our train, so we did some more wandering, had a beer at a hotel bar near the train station, and rode home late, and tired. What a great day it was.

Erfurt 1 – On the Trail of Martin Luther

October 9 –

We traveled out of Berlin on Monday, October 9, to a highly recommended town called Erfurt. Page was especially keen to go there, because this had been his first stop into East Germany on his photo excursion Beyond the Wall back in 1989. He and his fellow photographer stayed only one night in Erfurt, and he took only one photo of the city, from a tall block hotel then called the Inter-City Hotel (now the Radisson).

Photo credit: Page Chichester

We were not in a position to reproduce Page’s photo exactly (we did not go to the Radisson), but here’s a pic of a very small part of what we saw on Monday.

Page noted about these two structures, that they appear as most everything did in the DDR when he crossed the border in 1989, shortly after the wall fell.

Simply for context (and because I find it compelling) I’ve unearthed a bit of history of the city that I’ll include here, and then I have multitudes of photos to share—thus the break into two parts. We spent over 7 hours there, during a day with changing weather—although we did not get rained on and it was what the weather forecasters would have called mostly sunny. It was a grand excursion in an amazing place that is not (yet) overrun with tourists. We don’t regret a moment of it, although I’d recommend that, if you can possibly arrange it, try to choose a day that is not a Monday, when all the museums are closed.

Erfurt (pronounced “ear-fort” or “air-fort”) is the capital and largest city in the state of Thuringia, central Germany, in the wide valley of the Gera River. It is located 100 km (62 mi) south-west of Leipzig, a two-hour ICE train ride south-west of Berlin, and about 250 miles north of Munich. Combined with neighboring cities Weimar and Jena, Erfurt forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia (approx. 500,000 inhabitants).

The Gera River has played a significant role in Erfurt’s history, architecture, commerce, and economy for hundreds of years.

Erfurt’s old town is one of the most intact medieval cities in Germany, having survived World War II with very little damage. We visited several of the many, many churches in the city (including one that was left un-reconstructed after its destruction by bombers), and also Petersburg Citadel, one of the largest and best preserved town fortresses in Europe. Its economy is based on agriculture, horticulture and microelectronics, and its central location has allowed it to become a logistics hub for Germany and central Europe. 

This is what we could see of the intentionally un-reconstructed church, with a creepy plaque (that many have touched and made shiny in spots) so that residents and visitors will never forget.

Erfurt hosts the second-largest trade fair in eastern Germany (after Leipzig) as well as the public television children’s channel KiKa (something like our non-commercial PBS Kids channel) shortened from der KinderKanal (the children’s channel). KiKa’s mascot is the puppet character Bernd das Brot, a chronically depressed loaf of bread. (This note will become more relevant in the second half of this post: Erfurt 2: On the Trail of Sponge Bob.)

All around town were these characters from the children’s channel programming, even in the middle of the river.

The name Erfurt was first mentioned in 742, as Saint Boniface founded the diocese. At the time, the town did not belong to any of the Thuringian states politically. But it quickly became the economic centre of the region. It was part of the Electorate of Mainz during the Holy Roman Empire, and later became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802. From 1949 until 1990 Erfurt was part of the German Democratic Republic (DDR or East Germany).

A notable institution in Erfurt is the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule Erfurt) founded in 1379, the first university to be established within the geographic area which constitutes modern-day Germany. It closed in 1816 and was re-established in 1994, with the main modern campus on what was a former teachers’ training college. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was the most famous student of the institution, studying there from 1501. He either stayed or returned to teach in Erfurt, and his translation and reproduction of the Bible in the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the common man. This had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. In addition, his hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches.

Other famous Erfurters include the Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), and Gunda Niemann (1966- ) three-times Olympic speed skating gold-medal winner.

The entryway to walk the most quaint of all the streets of Erfurt.
Quirky art is tucked here and there and everywhere.
The cellar of this tavern, called the Red Horn, has been documented to have been built in 1386, but archaeologists date the roof and upper part of the structure to 1301. It was restored between 1993 and 1995.

So. There was/is plenty of history in this lovely small city, and we hit the highlights. But all four of us (Page, Ini, Jack, and I) began early by catching the S-Bahn to Berlin Hauptbahnhof to meet Lee in time to catch our ICE (high-speed inter-city) train by 8:20. At about 10:30A we stepped off the train in Erfurt, and walked toward the center of town. Our return tickets dictated that we get back to the Bahn for embarkation (with a train change heading back) by 6:30P, and our day ended (after parting with Lee at the Hauptbahnhof) with our usual walk from the S-Bahn station to the apartment at about 10:30-ish.

Without further adieu (except for comments in the captions) here are half of the scenes and sights from walking along the Trail of Martin Luther.

This fellow had bells around his ankle and so, as he walked through the streets, he jingled and jangled. He was a seller of sourdough pretzels dressed for the historic part. Page spoke to him and bought one of his delicious offerings, and was kind enough to share it with us.
Photo credit: Page Chichester

We passed a lady focused on removing the many stuck-on advertisements from lamp and sign posts in this neighborhood. With her fingernails.

I’ve no clue.

Half of a brewing tun used as a planter in a Biergarten.

By about noon, we’d wandered back to the main square—a wide, cobbled road (with many, many trolleys and sightseeing busses all going helter-skelter) with lovely houses and businesses along it. I was taken by the critters included in this architectural element below a bay window on one building.

Rounding a corner we saw this long truck packed with colorful objects, trying to turn into a fair area that completely covered up the usually open square.
In the next moment, we figured out that workers were dis-assembling the Ferris Wheel (placing the colorful cars by crane onto the semi trucks) and the carnival was breaking up. It was fascinating to watch the take-down of the enormous structure. Jack wanted to set up shop and just watch the process.
But we went to a Octoberfest-themed restaurant for lunch, and were served by a waitress in a dirndl, who ended up drinking more beers than we had. This image was on the wall behind me as we ate burgers and fries and had our beer. The fellow reminds me of my friend Jim K, who always signs his emails, “Prosit!”

After lunch, we headed uphill to a knoll where several churches reside, and Page was hard at work. The views from this hilltop were great, but not as good as those we captured from the citadel/fortress, which was our next stop, and the beginning of Erfurt 2.